Your car has a malfunctioning backlight. The cops stop you and penalise you Tk20,000 or three months jail time. What would you do if you were just a driver who draws a monthly salary of Tk15,000 (or even being a car owner with not enough cash)?
You would probably offer the cops some money – say Tk1,000 or 2,000. If the cops are not "unkind", they might do you a favour and leave you with a warning after accepting the bribe.
Similarly, who would pay one lakh taka for overloading? If you catch one, he would definitely try to bribe you to get out of the situation.
"This new traffic law won't work. This has only increased the rate of bribes for the cops," says Azizul Islam, a driver by profession with some 14 years of experience in driving on the crazy roads of Dhaka.
"Who would pay 10,000 Taka for speeding? This is so crazy! Anyone penalised and made to pay such a stiff fine would at first try to bribe the cops. For a constable, 2,000 Taka would be lucrative enough to overlook the offence," he said.
The street-smart driver is actually talking about how the real world deals with a law. Strict laws often do not work in real life.
"If a driver could pay 50,000 Taka fine for driving without registration – he would not be a driver. He would be doing business," he said, terming the high-level of fines a big joke.
So what would work in Dhaka?
"There is no medicine better than the baton, sir!" he says, "forget monetary penalties. Bring in the batons, jail time or confiscation of driving permits."
Charging batons on people sounds aggressive for a permanent measure.
But not to Azizul. "Look at the way the people jaywalk risking their lives. Instead of fining them, just charge the baton on their butt. If you charge one, the others will simply run away. And the guy who gets beaten once, will remember it so well that he would not do it again very soon."
He got this idea from how the army dealt with unruly buses on the highway during the army-backed caretaker government regime in 2007-2008. The army introduced a lane system on the Dhaka Mymensingh highway. Anyone breaking the rule will be punished. The bus drivers knew they were no-nonsense. So during the period, the bus drivers would simply follow the rule.
I found the driver's opinion to be more practical than the new law. If the police really want to bring discipline on the city roads, they have to look at the core problems first.
Almost all road accidents involve buses which do not follow any law. You can not penalise the drivers of these buses because they are poor. Therefore, a practical approach is to discipline them with penalties to make them suffer (like suspending their driving license for a term or putting them behind bars for certain days) and then they would keep the punishment in mind. But we don't see cops arresting unruly bus drivers.
On my way to my office, at the entrance of the Mohakhali flyover, a bus suddenly stopped in mid-lane and started to drop passengers. Behind him several cars started honking because this is not where you stop the bus. Then I saw a traffic police standing right by the side of the bus. The cop grabbed the collar of one passenger for getting down at a wrong spot. The passenger then offered his apology while holding his ears. The bus was still dropping few more passengers and then started off, with angry cars still honking.
If this is the scenario of implementation of the new law, then please do not expect anything to change on the roads of Dhaka.